How to Do Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) to Calm Your Body and Mind
This three-part breathing exercise works in three ways: calming your mind, soothing your nervous system, and improving your awareness of your lung capacity.
Three-part breath is a simple breathing exercise that can positively affect your mental and physical health. It’s often used at the beginning of a yoga session to bring your attention into your body and away from the external distractions you bring to the mat. Focusing intently on how the breath feels in your body clears your mind and prepares you for your practice. At the same time, deep rhythmic breathing causes your parasympathetic nervous system to kick on, which reduces anxiety and stress hormones in your body. The three-part nature of the breath, in which you consciously expand and then retract your belly, rib cage, and upper chest promotes healthy lung function.
- Come to lie down on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the mat. Although you can do this pranayama in a seated position, lying down makes it easier to feel the effects of the breath filling your body where it touches the floor.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath, at first just noticing your natural inhales and exhales without changing anything. This step helps begin to quiet your busy mind. Breath in and out through your nose if possible.
- To begin phase I of the exercise, inhale deeply through your nose and direct that breath to inflate your belly. Puff it up to full capacity. Exhale slowly and completely through your nose while deflating the belly, drawing your navel towards your spine when you feel empty to squeeze every last bit of air out. Repeat this deep belly breath for at least three cycles, more if you like.
- For phase II, inhale and first fill your belly as you have been doing. Then draw in a little more breath and direct it to fill your rib cage so that you can feel your ribs widening apart just a bit. You’ll feel this more if you are lying on your back. When you exhale, let the breath go first from your rib cage so that the ribs draw back together and then from the belly, drawing your navel towards your spine at the end. Take three or more cycles of this breath.
- For phase III, inhale to fill the belly and rib cage as you have been doing and then sip in just a tiny bit more breath and let it fill the upper chest, which we call the heart centre. Feel your whole sternum rise as you take in air all the way up to your collarbones. To exhale, let the breath go first from your heart centre so it sinks back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and finally from your belly, drawing your navel towards your spine. Now that you have activated all three parts of the breathing exercise, continue for five to ten more cycles, eventually letting the three parts flow smoothly without pausing between steps.
- Release your control of the breath and return to your natural inhalations and exhalations.
Continue on to your yoga practice or the rest of your day with a calmer mind and a more relaxed body.